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Build Me Up, Butternut

Turn up the heat with this sexy dish.

Veganize this dish by swapping in veggie stock and almond cheese.

There’s nothing more romantic than a cozy night cooking in with your sweetheart. But if you’re not exactly Martha Stewart, don’t worry—model-turned-gourmand Candice Kumai (who has cooked in the ATL before and says she loves it!) keeps things simple—and deliciously good for you, too, in her new book, Cook Yourself Sexy: Easy, Delicious Recipes for the Hottest, Most Confident You. Whip up her recipe for Dreamy Butternut Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese to heat things up... in more ways than one.

Mac ‘n’ Cheese:
2½ lbs. butternut squash, peeled, halved and seeded, then quartered and sliced into triangles
6 cloves garlic
1 sprig thyme
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
2 cups chicken stock
1 lb. elbow macaroni
2 Tbsps. grated Gruyere cheese

Topping:
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp. sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. In a large saucepan, add the butternut squash, garlic cloves, thyme sprig, unsweetened almond milk and stock. Cook until the butternut squash is fork-tender. Remove the thyme sprig.
2. Place the squash mixture in a food processor or blender, and puree until velvety smooth.
3. Meanwhile, cook the macaroni in salted water until it is al dente (semifirm). Drain and rinse with cool water.
4. Spread out the macaroni in a lightly greased 9-by-13 pan. Pour the squash puree over the noodles.
5. Combine all the ingredients for the herbed breadcrumb topping.
6. Cover the mac ‘n’ cheese with foil; place in the oven; and bake for 45 minutes. Remove and evenly spread the breadcrumb topping and Gruyère cheese over the top.
7. Transfer to the broiler and broil for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly.
Makes 6 servings

Nutrition info per serving: 443 calories, 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 16 grams protein, 6 grams fiber, 280 milligrams sodium, 86 grams carbohydrates